TOEM is the coziest photo scavenger hunt

By Steven Nguyen Scaife, Contributor
Aptly subtitled “a photo adventure,” TOEM (from developer Something We Made) is all about snapping pictures of a charming grayscale world. Sent out to experience the mysterious “TOEM” phenomenon by your Nana, you’re armed with little more than a camera and your portable tape player. But unlike so many other photography-based games, you aren’t venturing into the unknown to document unseen sights. Instead, you’re taking the bus between different communities and getting to know the eccentric folks who live there.

It all goes back to your community card. Each one tracks small tasks or errands you’ve been given and lists miscellaneous goals to accomplish, most of which involve taking the right picture. TOEM unfolds as an elaborate scavenger hunt where you keep an eye out for potential photo subjects based on straightforward requests or riddles. These tasks keep you puttering between areas that resemble hand-drawn dioramas. Each mission you complete earns you a stamp for the community card, and enough stamps earn you a free bus ticket to the next vibrant locale: the woods, the beach, a mountain, and even a big city.
Toem Is The Coziest Photo Scavenger Hunt
What works so well about TOEM is how much variety it squeezes out from such a simple concept, and how much character it gives its world in the process. Trekking through the woods, for example, will immediately lead to a hotel that doubles as an enormous tree. Go a little farther and you’ll find scouts marching outside their lodge, and then eventually a secluded concert with a gruff bouncer. In addition to the photo-related tasks and riddles (in the big city, what scene constitutes a “confusing moment?"), you’ll solve light puzzles, like getting the bouncer to let you through, or determining which candlelit table is an ideal date spot for a ghost. Some quests are cumulative throughout a single region, like gathering several bugs together from different corners of the forest, while others persist across multiple locales, like coaxing each region’s bashful monster out of hiding in order to snap its photo.

TOEM is never difficult, and it’s not really meant to be—it’s always laid-back and jovial, only ever requiring you to earn a fraction of an area’s total stamps in order to progress. But finding everything can be just as engrossing as a more conventionally challenging game. This is because TOEM’s world is such a pleasure to poke around in, as it allows you to discover its Easter eggs, its music, and its jokes (for example, your tape player is called not a Walkman but a “Hikelady.”) Every location is packed with silly vignettes composed of unique characters and distinctive backdrops, even without the use of color. You’ll discover a family of sentient balloons, or a displaced pirate captain, or the large number of random critters who make up the side task of filling an animal photo compendium.

While it has the exploration and discovery of so many other games, TOEM uses those mechanics to build a sense of community that feels truly warm and welcoming. It’s the equivalent of a cozy blanket, an ode to simply slowing down and taking in the world around you.

TOEM is now available on the Epic Games Store.